Joe Perry: 'Hollywood Vampires Are the Best-Kept Secret in Rock 'n' Roll'

Hollywood Vampires
Ross Halfin

Hollywood Vampires

Second album 'Rise' features more original material than 2015 self-titled debut

When a supergroup like Hollywood Vampires -- featuring Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, actor Johnny Depp and shock-rock icon Alice Cooper -- comes together, if egos aren’t kept in check, having three major celebrities in a band can become a major power struggle. But according to Cooper, the opposite has been true.

“That’s a very odd thing about this," he says. "You’ve got three alpha males who are used to running the show, and all of a sudden, three guys are sitting there with zero arguments. The whole thing is, ‘OK, let’s try that.’ Every time they would send me a track with scratch vocals on it, if I worked on it and chopped it up and did my thing, it would turn into an Alice song. I took my fingerprints off of it. I would hear the song and say, ‘Let’s do it as it was written.’ My instinct might be to say that this part goes too long or the intro goes too long, but that’s what makes it interesting.”

Named for a pack of famous musicians that Cooper used to drink with in the early ’70s, including John Lennon and Keith Moon, Hollywood Vampires (which also includes Cooper’s drummer, Glen Sobel, guitarist Tommy Henriksen and bassist Chris Wyse) first got together in 2015 to jam and play covers. They soon found themselves playing gigs and eventually recorded a self-titled debut of mostly cover songs that featured multiple guest stars, including Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Slash and late horror movie icon Christopher Lee.

Hollywood Vampires debuted at No. 43 on the Billboard 200 and has earned 58,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music. After that taste of success, Cooper explains, “We looked at each other and went, ‘Let’s do another album, but let’s make this one original.’ And just like that, Johnny was writing, Joe was writing, Tommy was writing, I was writing … and we just all kind of put it together while I was on tour. Tommy produced it, and the next thing you know, we had an album. The cool thing about it is that it doesn’t sound like an Alice album, it doesn’t sound like an Aerosmith album: It sounds like a Hollywood Vampires album.”

Things came together quickly for second album Rise (due June 21 on earMUSIC) when it came to writing. Cooper is 71, Perry is 68 and Depp is 56, but this isn’t a Viagra-dads garage band. This is a raw, aggressive and beautiful hook-filled riff fest by a bunch of guys who are playing with a level of enthusiasm that smokes bands half their age. They have a lust for rock ’n’ roll, and it sounds fantastic.

Cooper says, “We had all these ideas for songs -- [first single] ‘Who’s Laughing Now,’ ‘We Gotta Rise’ -- which is like a cheering song, and if there’s any politics in that, it’s totally satirical…. There’s ‘Mr. Spider,’ which is very Alice Cooperish; anything that’s hard rock is in my arena. Getting my teeth into a song like ‘I Want My Now’ or ‘The Boogeyman Surprise,’ those are the kind of songs that Alice can eat right up. ‘We Gotta Rise’ sounds to me like a song they would sing at a soccer match in England. It sounds like the most comical song on the whole album, but it does give the audience a reason to stand up and cheer.”

But Cooper appreciates that he gets to step out of character with Hollywood Vampires. “When I’m in the Alice band, he never talks to the audience because he’s this arrogant villain,” he says. “In the Vampires, I talk to the audience all night because I’m a different character. So I can talk about Jim Morrison, I can talk about Keith Moon, and talk just enough that it makes the show a lot looser.”

He also likes that everyone in the band sings. For instance, Henriksen does vocals on “Git From Round Me,” a track he wrote, and Depp covers David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which the band performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on June 19. Cooper says Depp really wanted to do the song, and when they played it, Cooper said told Depp he had to sing it. “He said, ‘I’m not a singer.’ And I said, ‘Johnny, you did Sweeney Todd!’ ” says Cooper, laughing. “And he said, ‘Oh yeah, I did. I forgot about that.’ We also recorded ‘Heroes’ in Berlin at the same studio that Bowie recorded the original version.”

Meanwhile, Perry revamped Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” “We kind of came up together, those guys from New York and us from Boston; we did a number of shows together,” recalls Perry. “So we got to know them pretty well, especially David (Johansen) and Johnny. But he was one of those guys that…” Perry pauses for a moment. “You just really couldn’t see him making it, let’s just put it that way. And we were all so young, and we had musician friends that were basically killing themselves -- they were definitely drinking themselves overboard, spending a lot of money on drugs.” Depp knew Thunders and Perry had been friends, and Perry said he would give it a try. “It worked, and I liked singing it. It’s carrying on with the Vampires tradition.”

“Welcome to Bushwackers,” which features Jeff Beck and John Waters, resulted from a story Depp told Cooper about when he was in an Alabama bar with Waters. “I went, ‘Stop! Just that you and John Waters were in a Southern bar,” recalls Cooper, laughing. “And he said, ‘We walked in, and the very first thing they said was, ‘Welcome to Bushwhackers -- it’s automatic weapons night!’ So now we call John Waters and said, ‘It would be really funny if you did that opening.’ And Waters said, ‘Well, I can’t talk about automatic weapons because I’m in an organization called Gays Against Guns.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re in a gay organization called GAG?’ And he said, ‘Yes!’ So we were both laughing, and I said, ‘What if you say ‘Welcome to Bushwhackers, it’s Gays Against Guns night!’ Because that’s even funnier!”

Beck’s performance “is a bucket-list thing. On the first album, we had Paul McCartney, and to me, you couldn’t get better than that. But if you’re going to get a guitar player on an album and you can get anybody, you pick Jeff Beck.”

Perry agrees. “It was one of those songs that is right under the skin of the Vampires with a sense of humor. You couldn’t say it in a better way than in that song. We had been hanging around with Jeff Beck over in Europe, and then when he came to the States, he dropped by Johnny’s house. Johnny gave him a guitar to put on, and we had this kind of honky-tonk rockabilly song and thought it would be great if Jeff played on it. I can’t ever imagine him not playing a good note, and it was just great to hear him. The first time we heard it, we were jumping out of our seats. And it’s a fun song to play live.”

The band wrapped a short tour of the West Coast in May. Plans for an expanded tour are underway, which Cooper says has to be arranged around Depp’s movie-making, Aerosmith’s Las Vegas residency and his own schedule. “We have to do it a year in advance,” he says of booking dates, “because everybody’s always working.”

Perry adds, “Right now, we’re in the middle of phone calls with the managers looking at the calendar. I think Johnny is hoping he’ll be done with the movie he’s doing in January and Aerosmith is finished with the residency in January or February, so we’re trying to find some time -- maybe May, June and July -- where we can do a proper tour.”

Playing live might be a year away, but Perry believes in the project and is proud of their work. “The Vampires are the best-kept secret in rock’n’roll right now because we can’t tour like a regular band would. So we do what we can and try to make people aware of it with everything we can until we can actually tour. We’ll do whatever we can do just to get the name out there because I think people should hear this band.”